By: Rudyard Kipling
May 1, 2024

AI-assisted illustration for HILOBROW

First published in The Story-Teller Magazine for October 1930 and collected in Limits and Renewals (1932), Kipling’s final proto-sf story explores the notion that mysterious processes at work in human tissues might be related to “waves” from the universe — and that in order to understand them, imagination and intuition may be as important as scientific investigation. HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize this story for HILOBROW’s readers.

UNPROFESSIONAL: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8.


One-two-Eight (Mrs. Berners) made a good recovery, and since she seemed alone in the world, Vaughan said that, as payment, she must stay on in his home and complete it to his satisfaction. She was touchingly grateful. After a few months (her strength returning) she asked to do something for her benefactors. No one seemed to look after the linen at Mr. Vaughan’s. Might she repair, count, store, and, even, give it out — for she had had experience in that line as a housekeeper. Her prayer was granted, and the work of getting at the things Vaughan had started the Home with; had bought, but had never entered; had raided from Ackerman, and thought — or worse, was quite sure — that he had sent back; or had lost by laundries and through servants, did her good. It also brought her over to Simson House to return things to Frost, where Harries and Ackerman complimented her on her appearance, and Loftie asked her to administer his chance-bought body-linen. She was delighted. She told them that, when she had nothing to do, she mostly felt in people’s way, and as if she ought to go on elsewhere. Loftie asked her why. She answered that, when her troubles were on her, they kept her busy, if it was only at trying not to cry. But now that they had been removed and by such kind gentlemen — the busiest day was none too full for her. She had a trick of tossing her head sideways and upwards, sometimes in the midst of her overseeing, and would say: ‘Well, well! I can’t keep at this all the time. I must be off elsewhere where I’m wanted’ — Loftie’s Home or Simson House as the case might be.

They discussed her at long and at large, one evening, throughout a film which — Vaughan and Loftie collaborating — was based on her more recent productions.

Vaughan was well satisfied. ‘You see! Nothing has struck back. I know that her strength — notice how the tides have steadied — and our new blankets weigh a bit, too — is above normal. She has covered seven months and twenty-three days, and — I tell you — her scar is simply beautiful.’

‘We’ll take your word,’ said Harries. ‘Now bring on your mouse-film, Loftie.’

And Loftie, while Frost slowed, speeded, or went back at command, spoke of mice that had recovered apparently from certain infections, but had fallen later into a characteristic unease, followed by nervous crises — as shown — culminating in what seemed to be attempts at suicide.

In every case where an attempt had succeeded, the vacuoles — the empty centres — which do not take stain — of the brain-cells over a minute area seemed to have blown out, apparently as(‘This’ll interest you, I know. I hired it from the Dominion Weather Bureau last week.’) asa house explodes through its own windows under the vacuum set up by a tornado. They then beheld a three-storey, clapboarded hotel vomiting itself outwards, while the black hook of a tornado’s tip writhed and fished above it.

Sometimes, Loftie went on, an affected mouse would recover, after nervous upheavals very like those of tetanus — as they had seen — followed by collapse and amazingly sub-normal temperatures, and then a swift resumption of normal life. They could draw their own conclusions.

Ackerman broke their stillness. ‘Frost, go back, please, to that bit showing the movement of their heads when the attacks are coming on.’ Frost began again.

‘Who’s that like?’ Ackerman called out suddenly. ‘Am I wrong?’

‘No, sir,’ Frost groaned out of the dark. Then they all saw.

‘“Well, I can’t stay here! I’ve got to move on elsewhere where I’m wanted,”’ Ackerman quoted half-aloud. ‘And her hands working! The forefeet — I mean her hands! Look! It’s her!’

‘That’s exactly her listening attitude, too,’ said Harries. ‘I never noticed it before.’

‘Why would you — with nothing to check it by?’ said Loftie. ‘What does it mean?’

‘It means she’s as likely as not to chuck herself under a lorry some day, between here and Sloane Street,’ Frost interrupted, as though he had full knowledge and right.

‘How do you know?’ Vaughan began. ‘She’s absolutely normal.’

The flexes of the camera had not been disconnected, so they were still darkling.

‘She’s not! She’s all astray. God knows where she’s straying; but she’s not here, more’n the dead.’ Frost repacked the camera and went out. They gathered round Harries.

‘As I read it,’ he laid down, after some preliminaries, ‘she has been carried yes, tided-over the time that her trouble ought to have finished her. That is two or three months now, isn’t it, Taffy? But, she wasn’t saved by the knife. She was saved by the knife at the proper time of tide.’

‘She has lasted seven months and twenty-three days. Most unusual, I grant, with that type of growth; but not conclusive,’ was Vaughan’s retort.


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | & many others.